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Minnesota campaign board rejects NOM attempt to hide donors supporting marriage ban

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ruled today that corporate donations to groups advocating for or against a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage must be disclosed. The Minnesota Family Council (MFC) and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) argued that supporters of marriage equality would commit violence against their donors if they were made public. On Thursday, the board disagreed.

The campaign finance board met in mid-June to vote on how to implement new independent expenditure rules and how they would apply to the 2012 ballot initiative campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the Minnesota Constitution. NOM and MFC argued that no disclosures should have to be made for fear of reprisal from supporters of marriage equality.

“To require groups, non profits like the Minnesota Family Council, to disclose their donors and make their donors names public would have a significant chilling effect on free speech. Even in Minnesota already it’s gotten heated in some respects,” Prichard told the board. “The concern is harassment, property damage, a chilling effect. If I know I have to disclose my name, I’m not going to get involved with the Minnesota Family Council.”

He added that he had knowledge that in California during the 2008 Prop 8 campaign same-sex marriage supporters engaged in violence.

“They went after their employment, by challenging their employers. There was vandalism on certain organizations. I can think of one individual that his business suffered because he had to disclose. I don’t think our organization should have to disclose our donors, period. We just don’t believe we should be forced to.”

But a coalition of groups advocated just the opposite, that full disclosure is essential to a healthy democracy. Common Cause Minnesota, the League of Women Voters and the Brennen Center for Justice sent a letter to the board on Thursday morning criticizing the statements of NOM and MFC and urging the board to make the ballot process more transparent.

“Much like the boy who cries ‘wolf,’ it has become routine for groups like the National Organization for Marriage to complain that disclosure will leave them vulnerable to threats and harassment,” the letter stated. “The evidence shows otherwise. In reality, groups like NOM are largely complaining about the ordinary rough and tumble of political debate, particularly on an issue that touches people as personally and deeply as same-sex marriage.”

The groups said that full disclosure would ensure that voters have the best available information when they go to the polls.

“Knowing the author and funder of an ad campaign can help voters evaluate the credibility of the messenger, especially in the absence of active media scrutiny of the issue,” the letter said. “Voters would like to know: Is the majority of the money coming from out of state? Is the support from a large base of supporters or a few wealthy individuals? What interests do those contributing individuals represent? Knowing who is likely to benefit, or lose, from the outcome of a ballot question will help voters to evaluate both sides of a ballot initiative debate.”

On Thursday morning the board agreed and voted in favor of a resolution that would require disclosure of corporate donors to the campaigns involved in wooing voters in 2012.

“Disclosure is essential to ensure a fair and open public debate on the marriage amendment,” said Mike Dean of Common Cause Minnesota in reaction to the board’s decision. “The adopted rules will allow the public to know who is truly behind the political ads. This decision will hopefully bring some additional civility to the debate by forcing groups and donors to be accountable for the ads they run.”

NOM has attempted to shield its donors from disclosure requirements in many states including Maine, California, New York, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Iowa, and been the subject of campaign finance complaints or has sued to prevent the disclosure of its donors in those states.

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